Beach No 51: Milk (Sunday 11 February 2018)

As I hop on my bicycle to ride to Milk Beach at 9:30 am I’m thinking of a recent conversation with a friend about Being more and Doing less. The irony of spending my leisurely bicycle ride through Sydney on a beautiful Sunday morning thinking about how to Be rather than Do isn’t entirely lost on me.

But, obviously, I am off in the shrubbery of my mind as I ride through Centennial Park. The road is one way and I ride right past my exit, so I do a full extra circuit of the park.

I spend so little time in these harbourside Eastern Suburbs that, in my mind, once I’ve left Centennial I think I’m nearly to Vaucluse, home of Milk Beach. I’m barely half way there. This second half of the ride is on a mix of major and minor roads, all of them decidedly hilly. Climbing one, my chain comes off – I find a flat bit of footpath, remove the panniers, flip the bike, and put the chain back on, leaving traces of grease on my hands.

Finally, 90 minutes from home, I’m locking my bicycle to the National Park sign at the end of Tingara Avenue and walking the remaining 200 metres to Milk Beach along the Hermitage Foreshore Walk.

After the big names beaches with their big crowds, Manly and Maroubra, Milk is a nice reminder that part of the mission of this project is to visit the more obscure beaches.

It’s a little beach: fifty metres long by, maybe, 20 metres deep. It’s a shallow crescent of sand with eroding chalk, maize, and rust coloured rock formations at either end. Women in bikinis sun bathe on some of the rocks. A family splashes and plays in the shallows. There are kayaks and paddleboards pulled up on the beach and boats are anchored not far from shore. There is a very dark brown white man in speedos roasting in the sun.

A path to South Head traverses the beach and walkers stroll through sprinkling the air with words in Italian, Mandarin, German, etc.

I manage the change from riding gear to swimming gear beneath the modesty cover of my beach towel. To me, it’s a very Australian manoeuvre. The first time I did it, years ago now, I felt like I’d ticked a box on my list of things which made me more Australian. Now, every time I do it I am reminded of that feeling. It’s nice. Which is good because the contortions involved are a bit of a pain in the arse.

I wade into the Harbour.

I’m still hot from the ride. The coolness shocks then relieves and, finally, is lovely.

Two grandfathers with two grandsons, a teenager and a toddler, throw a ball around. One grandfather finds a small silvery fish, dead and floating. He throws it further from the shore while speculating it hadn’t survived catch-and-release. It’s upturned belly glistens in the sun. I don’t want it anywhere near me.

Back on the beach I let the sun and breeze dry my skin, pour myself hot sweet black tea from my Thermos, and enjoy the view of our harbour. The wind is picking up making the surface choppy and frothy. Yet the water is pale pale green and cobalt with forest green under tones.

Last night I met a lot of people at a party who, while they live here, are originally from overseas and mostly had arrived more recently than me. In talking with them about Sydney, a place I, a lot of my friends, and the media complain about regularly, I was reminded just how magical this city is.

Sitting here now those impressions of other people are made manifest. Just look at this place. I am in a major city. I can see the urban skyline just there to the right. Seaplanes depart and arrive. The ferry comes and goes from Rose Bay Wharf. This gorgeous crescent of beach and the parklands behind are in the public domain and look at all the people who’ve come to enjoy it. It’s magnificent.

Tea done it’s time to take some photos. Which is when I fall off the boardwalk and tumble into the bushes. No injury but a bit of an abrasion. And no harm to the ego either as it went unnoticed.

I’m ready to head home.

A BIT ABOUT MILK BEACH AND VAUCLUSE, MAINLY VAUCLUSE

Milk Beach is in Vaucluse.

This area was home to the Birrabirragel people of the coastal Dharug language group until their homeland was invaded and they were displaced. Their sovereignty was among the first to be disrupted after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. A rudimentary signal station was established on the ridge separating the sea from the harbour, it was formalised by 1790 and a bridal trail connected it to Sydney Cove. By 1811 that trail had become South Head Road.

Vaucluse House is one of the suburbs main tourist attractions and the source of the name of the suburb. It was built by Sir Henry Browne Hayes who had been transported as a convict for kidnapping the granddaughter of a wealthy Irish banker.

Let’s delve into that one a little more, shall we? Sir Henry was born into a wealthy family in Cork, Ireland in 1762. In 1790, at age 28, he was knighted. Following the death of his wife he became acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20,000. On 22 July 1797 Sir Henry abducted her, took her to his house, called in a man dressed as a priest to perform a marriage ceremony – to which Miss Pike objected and which she never considered legitimate. She was eventually rescued by relatives and Hayes fled. Wikipedia doesn’t say as much, and it’s probably not recorded anywhere, but I’m going to guess that between the ceremony and her rescue that Sir Henry raped Miss Pike. What I’ve read indicates that her wealth was his main interest. Perhaps. I’ve also read that she never fully recovered from the ordeal and experienced “bouts of madness” through the rest of her days.

In discussing the convicts, we often focus on the many who were sent out for either the petty crimes of poverty and hunger (stealing food or small items to sell to be able to buy food) or political crimes. Sir Henry Browne Hayes committed a vile crime.

He was on the run for two years. His trial in 1801 garnered much attention. He was found guilty and initially was condemned to death later commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney in July 1802. Still with his title and his wealth even as a convict. He had paid his way into a softer passage from the England but along the way made an enemy of Surgeon Thomas Jamison. Upon arrival in Sydney he spent the first six months imprisoned “for his threatening and improper conduct.” Governor King found him “a restless, troublesome character” and was glad to grant permission for him to purchase land and a cottage well distant from the main colony of Sydney.

So, in 1803 he bought a home and property from Thomas Laycock. Sir Henry, an admirer of the 14th century poet Petrach named his cottage after a poem about the Fontaine de Vaucluse near the town L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France.

The house was later purchased by William Charles Wentworth (in 1853). He was a barrister and explorer – one of the colonists who first crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. He made many structural changes and additions, so it is his house and gardens you visit if you visit Vaucluse House.

Closer to Milk Beach, in fact in the parklands adjacent to it, is Strickland House – originally called Carrara and built in 1854-6 for the first Lord Mayor of Sydney, John Hosking. The name was changed in 1915 when it became a convalescent home for women.

The only reference I can find for the naming of Milk Beach says it was so named at the location of milk deliveries to Strickland House.

Carrara, August 1903
Carrara, August 1903

VAUCLUSE PEOPLE

In colonial times rich men and men holding important positions built their homes in Vaucluse. While all the Birrabirragel people’s land has long been stolen and extensively built on, still the wealthy flock to Vaucluse. As of 2016 the 2030 post code (which includes Vaucluse) had the 5th highest mean taxable income in Australia ($154,010) – note that that only counts taxable income not accumulated wealth or income for which the tax man does not cometh.  The median household weekly income is $2741 (compared with $1486 for New South Wales and $1438 for Australia).

Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895
Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895

On the 2016 census night 9,337 people called Vaucluse home. Of these 25, or 0.3%, identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. (As compares to 2.9% of residents of New South Wales and 2.8% of all Australians.) These 25 people had a median household income of $2550 or $191 less than their non-Aboriginal neighbours, which over 52 weeks would be $9,932 less per year. But that $2550 is twice the average of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in NSW ($1214) and Australia more generally ($1203).

Most Vauclusians are Australian born (57.5%) though for nearly half (48.3%) both parents were born overseas. Those born overseas themselves hail from South Africa (7.8%), England (5.2%), China (2.3%), New Zealand (1.9%) and Israel (1.4%).

Vaucluse is probably one of very few suburbs in all of Australia where the most common response about religious identification is Judaism at 23.2% followed by No Religion 22.6%, Catholic 19.8% and Anglican 11.5%. Across the state of NSW 0.5% people identified as Jewish and in Australian 0.4%.

VAUCLUSE POLITICS

Milk Beach is in the Local Government Area of Woollahra, the State electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

In the recent national postal poll on same sex marriage 81% of Wentworth voters were in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MILK BEACH LOCATION

Milk Beach is 13.7 kilometres (8.5 miles) from home.

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Naked Liberation at No 42 Lady Bay Beach – 22 February 2015

Until recently I was dreading Lady Bay. It is the second of, I think, three  ‘clothing optional’ beaches in Sydney (this one granted that status in 1976). The first in this project was beach No 13: Cobblers.

I am not generally inclined to get my kit off in public. Prior to Cobblers I never had and I found the experience fairly nerve-wracking. Back then (20 February 2011 – so almost four years exactly) I was not as well equipped, mentally, to look at things that made me uncomfortable, step back, and question why. But several weeks ago, thinking about Lady Bay, I asked myself what was the worst thing that could happen? My answers were: someone I don’t want to talk to might talk to me and I might get sunburnt is places I’d really rather not. I realised the former was nothing to fear as I’m perfectly capable of walking away from pesky people and the latter I could take precautions against.

So it was that my friends were more worried about Lady Bay than I was.

I rode my bicycle the 22 or so kilometres to Camp Cove in Watsons Bay from which I walked to Lady Bay. Sydney is an undulating city and this was an undulating ride – up down, up down – Google says ascended 265 metres and descended 276.

Camp Cove looks like a beach and is treated as a beach but is not listed by Gregory’s as a beach so I have not visited it as part of this project. But many, many people are visiting it today. There’s an adorable kiosk dispensing ice creams, lollies and coffee to a steady stream of customers. I have a coconut sorbet and a short black – neither is fantastic but both are perfect after the ride.

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The Camp Cove Kiosk.

 

With my courage enforced by cold creamy coconutiness I walk the 300 or so metres to the top of the stairs leading to Lady Bay. The beach is about 100 metres below the walking path but not far enough for me to miss a quite fit very naked man emerging from the harbour on the beach below.

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I’m here, no time like the present. Down the stairs I go. And along the beach looking for a spot to call my own which is near enough the cliff as to not be too visible to the strolling masses of clothed onlookers above and not too close to other visitors.

I am a little intimidated as nearly everyone on the beach is male – maybe 15 or 20 men and three or four women including myself. The men come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Including two quite heavy, quite furry and, if it’s not too much to say, rather, um, tiny, men who – not together mind you – stand about on the beach occasionally smoking cigarettes. But, you know, whatever. Lady Bay is, I understand, a mostly gay beach so it’s likely none of these men will look at me with even a passing glance of interest.

I am hot and sweaty from the ride and the harbour is calling. Off comes the kit, all of it – and especially the glasses leaving the world a soft blur. So in nothing but my tattoos I stride the 10 or so metres to the water and plunge in … knowing I’m visible to those above and, presumably, those in boats not too far off. And … so what? If they are judging me, what do I care? Not a whisper do I care.

 

It’s fantastic. The late summer water temperature is perfect – just cool enough to be refreshing yet warm enough to be inviting. Even out of focus I know the city is all around me and yet here I am naked and floating in Sydney Harbour. It is liberating and genuinely fabulous

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I wrap a towel about my waist and sit topless feeling the late afternoon sun on my wet skin and watching the light jewel off the water. A young bloke notices my “No 42 Lady Bay” sign and asks about it. He is not, I realise, someone I did not want to talk to – I am happy to chat and tell him about the blog. His name is David and he has a website devoted to Sydney’s nudist scene (www.sydneynudists.com).

It is strange but good – I’ve never met someone in the nude before. In fact I don’t think I’ve conversed in the nude with anyone ever who was not, at some point, a sexual partner. If you see what I mean. None of the gyms I’ve belonged to have been the sort where women wander about the change rooms naked, for instance. Ah, well … I have been to baths in Japan where I did exchange greetings while naked with other naked women but we didn’t converse for lack of a shared language. But David and I chat for a good 10 minutes or so, introduce ourselves and shake hands. All very civil. All very liberating … I can’t come up with an equally good word for it.

I swim again then sit and write for a while then swim again. I would stay longer but I hadn’t arrived until nearly 5 pm and it was now coming up on 6 pm. I was taking the ferry home but it would still take the better part of two hours to get there.

Waiting on the wharf I got some fish and chips and rang my best mate who was awaiting a report on Lady Bay and all I could say was that it was fantastic. Really fantastic. For days after it left me feeling fabulous and strong and like someone who had finally learned the value of asking of myself, of anything I’m feeling worried about, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Lady Bay is in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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You May Have Your Mansion But the Beach is There for All – No 41, Kutti (1 February 2015)

Kutti Beach is in Vaucluse, long the most affluent of Sydney suburbs and still in the top five. Prior to European colonisation the area was home to the Birrabirragal clan of the Dharug language group. They named the whole area, now called Watsons Bay, Kutti.

That the usual Sunday crowds are waiting at Watsons Bay is evident on the wharf at Circular Quay.

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I am set to meet Tom Allen, his wife Tenny and her sister Narineh under the big Morton Bay Fig in Robertson Park at 1 pm.  Tom is a bicyclist and all-around adventurer, blogger, filmmaker and bicycle advocate. I’d been following his blog for a while when he wrote a post saying he’d just arrived in Sydney and would be staying a while. I got in touch and invited him along to a beach outing and he, to my delight, accepted.

It’s not a perfect beach day – the sun comes and goes and its a bit breezy, but its summer, in Sydney, and two of our foursome have just arrived from the UK. (Narineh has been living in Sydney for a couple of years.)

Here’s the thing about the most touristic waterside places in Sydney – if you walk just that little bit further the crowds will drop away.

We walk south past the baths, past the crowded café at the adorable library, and past the Vaucluse Yacht Club. Gibbons Beach has maybe 15 visitors. As we pass through the reserve there I point out the house at the end of the beach of which I’d wondered, when I visited Gibbons, “what sort of life would I have had to live to live there?”

Up to the street, a right turn then another into Wharf Road, and we come to a dead end facing the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club.

Having Googled Kutti before coming I knew there would be a narrow stairwell down to the beach and so it was, there it is.

The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.
The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.

And so we arrive on an exclusive, obscure, quiet little beach in the heart of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

Kutti is about 100 metres long, maybe less, and some 20 metres deep. A couple of very small sailing boats are pulled up on the sand and a dozen or so boats are moored in the bay. Just as we arrive man and his dog, on a paddleboard, return to the beach – both a bit wet and salty looking.

A man and his dog.
A man and his dog.

There are maybe four or five houses that front Kutti Beach. One is for sale if you are in the market of a multi-million dollar home. In many countries this little stretch of beach would have been divvied up amongst these few properties. But in Australia all beaches are public. Tom is impressed.

There are families using the “boathouses” (now more loungerooms/guesthouses with kitchens) of two of the houses – kids are running around, in and out of the houses, into the water and back again. I am sort of amused to see Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags strung on this house  which was recently on the market with an expected price tag of $25 million.

Revisiting the question of what it would take to live here Tom says “good fortune” and I suggest that even if the fortune has been in the family for a century I expect the wealth would have been gained in a way that offends my sensibilities at least a little. He laughs.

The clouds remain mostly at bay; its warm and lovely and very very Sydney. We all swim then sit on the beach and chat about the lives we’ve led, are leading, hope to lead. We swim some more. I take my obligatory photograph and then its time for cold beer back at the Watsons Bay Hotel.

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Before we went our separate ways I even remembered to get a group photograph.

Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh
Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh

Then the dark clouds begin to gather making for dramatic light through spray-splashed windows on the ferry ride back to Circular Quay.

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Kutti Beach is 19 kilometres (12 miles) from home. It’s in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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No 32: Gibson’s Beach – 2 February 2014

Living in Sydney brings joy to my life.  Even when all else is shit, when plans fail, promises are broken and my mood is sour to see Sydney Harbour, the Bridge, the Opera House brings me joy.  Perhaps especially when all else is shit the magic of my own joyful response to the sheer beauty of Sydney Harbour and my endless wonderment at making my life here lifts my spirit and brightens my day.

I love, love this city.
I love, love this city.

I was in a fine mood on Sunday to begin with – slightly disappointed no friends were free to join me at Gibson’s Beach but excited for my first solo visit of this project.  It was late afternoon when I boarded the ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay.  The steel blue water glistened, reflecting the nearly flawless bowl of blue sky above.  The Louise Savage skimmed eastward through a harbour busy with Sunday afternoon sailors and cruisers.  Standing on the open deck smelling the saltiness in the stiff wind we buzzed past Fort Denison and Garden Island.  Sightseeing sea-planes circled overhead preparing to land at Rose Bay.  I felt a rushing visceral happiness which made my heart beat just a little bit faster.  I love, love this city.  I love that opportunity and choice have led me here.

Seaplane preparing to land at Rose Bay.
Seaplane preparing to land at Rose Bay.

From the water, Watson’s Bay looks very much the fishing village it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It has maintained some of that charm while now being a very well-to-do suburb.  Disembarking I am met by a crowd of day-trippers awaiting the return journey.  Doyle’s Fish and Chippery is doing its usual roaring trade.  Chilled out Sunday session music is pumping from Watson’s Bay Hotel.  Families, backpackers, teenagers and tourists are lingering under the giant Morton Bay fig tree in Robertson Park enjoying ice creams and cold drinks in the still hot afternoon.  It feels very much that we are all ‘away’ from the city but looking west, there, on the horizon is the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Watson's Bay still kind of looks like a fishing village.
Watson’s Bay still kind of looks like a fishing village.

Gibson’s Beach is a five minute walk southwest of the ferry wharf.

Turn right and walk five minutes for Gibson's Beach.
Turn right and walk five minutes for Gibson’s Beach.

I pass the shark-netted Watson’s Bay Baths, a small municipal library (surely one of the most prettily situated libraries in the world) and the charmingly simple Vaucluse Yacht Club.

Charmingly old-school Vaucluse Yacht Club.
Charmingly old-school Vaucluse Yacht Club.
Yachts at anchor near the club.
Yachts at anchor near the club.

Gibson’s is pleasantly busy with families and teenaged couples.  I expect most visitors are locals but there’s a large Spanish-speaking family and a trio of Russian-speaking swimmers – all of whom may now be locals, of course.

Lazy Sunday arvo - Gibson's Beach style.
Lazy Sunday arvo – Gibson’s Beach style.

The flat quiet water is just the sort I find imminently inviting.  I waded in and then dove under to wash the summer city heat from my body.  The water is crystalline in a way that always amazes me.  There are schools of little minnows dashing about.

Houses open onto the end of the beach and border the associated reserve.  It’s hard to imagine the lives led here.  Well, no, it’s hard to imagine the life I would have had to have led to now find myself being able to afford a house that opens onto Gibson’s Beach.  It is nice to visit.

It's seems a charmed life to have one's front gate open onto Gibson's Beach
It seems a charmed life to have one’s front gate open onto Gibson’s Beach
Number Thirty-Two: Gibson's Beach
Number Thirty-Two: Gibson’s Beach

The beach was named after Henry Gibson, a shipping pilot who worked and lived in the area for 50 years from the late 1830s onward.

Gibson’s Beach is 23 kilometres (14 miles) from home.  It’s in the Woollahra Local Government Area, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and federal division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

Twenty-three kilometres from home.
Twenty-three kilometres from home.
Sunday Arvo Session at Watsons Bay
Sunday Arvo Session at Watsons Bay Hotel
From the City of Sydney Archives - it says 1904 but more likely nearer 1894.
From the City of Sydney Archives – it says 1904 but more likely nearer 1894.

No 30: Forty Baskets Beach – 28 December 2013

I’ve been to the beaches but not blogged about them.  It’s been quite a year for me.  Sundays the Beach was our project and now it is my project.  Change is hard and change is good.

I’ve decided that counting the beaches with fingers is fun and worth doing when I can but failing to have sufficient numbers is no excuse for not going to the beach on a good beach day.

So I’ll tell you about the latest beach, Forty Baskets, today, and fill in the missing beaches over time.  This season I will post the beaches as I go and make this a more active blog.  Bear with me.

I’ve been trying to get to Forty Baskets for a week or so.  Some friends and I were going to do the Spit to Manly Walk, stopping at Forty Baskets, and finish with a Manly Ferry ride home.  But one friend’s plans changed and another was sick.  I thought I’d go on my own on Christmas Day but it was not a beach day – overcast and cool.

But Saturday dawned a gem of a beach day – sunny, warm, not too hot, breezy but not too blowy.  Laura and I drive to Manly and walk the two kilometers to Forty Baskets – passing Delwood and Fairlight Beaches and through North Harbour Reserve.

We are greeted by an informational sign which tells us that the original inhabitants of this area were the Boregal and Gorualgal groups of the Gatlay family group of the Gai-marigal clan who made their homes in what is now northern Sydney.

The first land-grants were issued to settlers in 1834 but the first homes weren’t built until 1887.  Being remote from Sydney it remained lightly populated until the 1940s when modern development began.

The name derives from the forty baskets of fish caught by local fisherman to deliver to soldiers from the War in Sudan who were being held at the Quarantine Station upon their return to Sydney in 1885.

I was intrigued by the name even before I learned the source but … the War in Sudan??

Yes.  In brief, the British Empire got involved in a bit of a fuss in Sudan involving a Muslim sheikh separatist.  The British thought they’d ride in and sort it out but were out-manoeuvred, defeated and got bogged down (sounding familiar?).  They sent a famous general in to get them out of the quagmire.  He decided the British might yet win but he too was outsmarted by the locals.  He was quite famous and the Empire was impassioned about his predicament.  New South Wales was keen to help out and offered to raise a contingent to come to his aid and so they did.  These were the first Australian troops to depart for a foreign war and they are sort of a big deal in Australian history.  Many New South Welshman and women supported the raising and sending of these troops – thousands turned out to see them off.  But many others thought it a lark and a tugging-of-the-locks towards the Empire and opposed the raising of funds to support the effort.

The NSW contingent went to Africa, did a lot of marching and practicing, didn’t see much action and came home.  When they arrived they were quarantined for a few days to make sure they weren’t disease-ridden.  It was then that the fisherman caught and delivered the Forty Baskets of fish.

Soldiers returned from Sudan … having had the Forty Baskets of fish.

A 1966 movie, Khartoum, staring Charlton Heston and Lawrence Olivier is set in this 1885 Sudan War – I haven’t seen it but when I do I will add a review here.

The river runs red … they say.

Forty Baskets is the perfect sort of beach for this project.  I’ve walked past every time I’ve done the Spit to Manly Walk and never stopped.  It’s just a pleasant little spot: a caged harbour beach, family friendly, boat-y.  Not a place you’d make a point to visit if you weren’t a local – and most of the visitors seem to be just that.

There are loads of picnicking family groups, little kids splashing in the shallows or building sand castles, bigger kids bombing off the jetty.  We’ve just missed the ice cream man in his tinnie and melting treats are clutched in sticky little hands.

Forty Baskets of inviting beachy goodness.

Laura enters the water boldly – I mean, it is quite warm, but I’m still tip-toeing in while she’s splashing about like an otter.  It’s so clear – the water, it’s striking because we’re in a busy harbour surrounded by one of the world’s great cities and yet the water is clear as glass.  It shimmers and sparkles, the boats at their moorings bob, an expanse of dark sapphire sea stretches toward Manly proper.

Offering the Sydney summer soundtrack, cicadas screech and pulsate hidden in the Norfolk Island pines.  When they quiet: the laughter and cries of children, the rumble of loads of different conversations near at hand but not near enough to hear clearly and the light jingling of boat rigging in the wind.

We’d stay longer – it invites lingering, but we’ve forgotten our snacks and its well past lunch time already.  We retrace our steps back to Manly and into Four Pines for a late lunch and cold refreshing beverages.

Forty Baskets is 26 kilometres (16 miles) from home.  It is in Balgowlah, a suburb within the Manly LGA, the state electorate of Manly (Mike Baird, Liberal) and the federal division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

Twenty-six kilometers from home.

A Bush Walk and Apple Strudel (No 28: Flat Rock Beach – 12 May 2013)

At the Austrian Club.
At the Austrian Club.

Here’s an interesting and unexpected story from Killarney Heights, the suburb where you’ll find Flat Rock Beach:

In February 1979, a Lithuanian couple who believed they were being chased by Soviet agents were discovered in bushland adjacent to the suburb. Stepan Petrosys (81) and his 68-year old wife were discovered after having lived in a cave for 28 years.

That small discover was too good to bury deep in my post. Now that is out of the way, let me tell you about Flat Rock Beach.  This is the last of the beaches I visited with Mitch and I have contemporaneous notes to work from – which is good because it’s just been so long and really feels like a lifetime ago. Just to make it feel a little closer I’ve put this in present-tense.

The day dawns cool and very foggy.  I wish the fog will remain to give our bushwalk and beach visit an atmospheric air but know it won’t.

Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge
Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge

We leave home around noon to collect Sabra – fighting Mother’s Day traffic en route.  Flat Rock Beach is in Garigal National Park and on the upper reaches of the Middle Harbour. We park and join the Flat Rock Track climbing from the waterside to a ridge-line overlooking the harbour. We have views of the water all along the walk and it is glorious. The sun in warm in heat and light; it sparkles. Sail boats, motor boats, kayaks and canoes crowd the calm green water.

Middle Harbour
Middle Harbour

The track is busy with families and groups of friends. Strangely, for a track that seems pretty obscure, most walkers we encounter do not have Australian accents but hail from Europe and North America.

On Flat Rock Track.
On Flat Rock Track.

We negotiate the stairs down to the beach and find there are three or four boats at anchor in the bay of the beach. Across the water is a rising green landscape peppered with suburban houses.  A waterfall of a sort sounds in the bush behind us, trickles onto the beach, and into to the harbour.

We sit and snack and look.  It is a glorious autumn day.  We wade into the still-warm water and it is lovely.

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On the drive over I’d spotted a nearby little black square marked ‘Austrian Club’ on the map.  I think ‘Let’s see what that is.’

We find a typical Australian club building but with Tyrolean touches and a big Austrian flag dancing in the breeze. Emerging from the car we hear Austrian music playing and we think this is promising. Entering, we find a large hall with a stage, dance floor and a bistro on a platform looking out on the park. There are hand-painted plaques in German, a mounted deer head and a big display devoted to the World Cup. The far wall is decorated with the club shield flanked by the Australian and Austrian flags. An old tv in the corner is showing Austrian music videos.

Say it with me: Austrian-Australian
Say it with me: Austrian-Australian

There are a couple of families in the bistro including one with one bloke in lederhosen and another in an awesome sort-of Tyrolean cap with a feather.  A woman greets us in German to which we reply in English.  A bloke wanders over from another table – a fellow in his 70s, maybe 80s.  He proves to be a bit of a fly who hovers about us chattering away but moves on when our food comes only to return when we finish.  He is an Austrian-Australian – which I like a lot, just to say it: Austrian-Australian.  He’d come to Australia, then went back to Austria, then to New York for a time, back to Austria then moved here permanently 57 years ago.  He goes back to his village between Salzburg and Innsbruck every year.  He was wearing a very Austrian-looking green sort of cardigan.

They have Stiegl and Erdinger Weissbier on tap – wunderbar.  The food comes – Sabra and I both have the goulash with spätzle while Mitch has roast pork with sauerkraut and potatoes. I love my goulash.  The beef just falls apart and the sauce is spicy and gravy-like.  The spätzle is buttery with a few crisp bits which are very nice.We don’t need to have dessert but we do: Sabra and I have the apple strudel, Mitch has the Sacher torte.

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We speak with one of the waitresses – they’d just had some new people take over the kitchen – I see on-line its Erich and Kitty Koenigseder.  It is all good reviews for them and we can only add our own.  I explain how we’ve been at the park and spotted them on the map so came to see what they were about and how glad we did.  It is really like a little quick trip to Austria in a lot of ways.

Flat Rock Beach is in Killarney Heights, part of the Warringah Council Local Government Area. It’s in the Wakehurst State Electorate (Brad Hazzard, Liberal) and Warringah Federal Division (Tony Abbott, Liberal). It lies some 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Croydon Park, where I was then living.

Ice Creams at Fairlight Beach (No 26 – 14 April 2013)

Writing about our visit to Fairlight Beach is an exercise of memory. If I wrote something at the time I’ve lost it and it’s now August 2014.

April 2013 feels like a lifetime ago in so many ways but I do remember the day. It was hot. We had Mitch’s parents’ car while they were on holiday. We collected Sabra from her flat in Balmain and drove to Fairlight. We found a car park almost immediately. As we walked down to the beach Sabra’s then-fiancé-now-husband, Pietro, rang from Italy. They spoke in Italian and catching a few words I felt my study of the language wasn’t entirely a lost cause.

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The beach was crowded. The sand was hot. A tap at the back of the beach was broken and gushed fresh water wastefully. Anita, who lives nearby, joined us. The man with the ice-cream tinny arrived and we got cold treats.

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We girls swam. Was Mitch thinking of how to get out of this marriage as he sat on the beach? Or did he merely stare at the glistening blue harbour blankly? If I asked I think he’d say “I don’t know” and maybe that would be true.

Perhaps we shouldn’t meddle too much with our memories by applying later knowledge to rearrange the stories we’ve saved.

We weren’t on the beach long, an hour or so – but I think it was good. I remember it as having been good.

Fairlight is named after Fairlight House which was built by Henry Gilbert Smith on land he bought in 1853. The house was named after a village in Hastings, East Sussex, on the south coast of England. The house is long since gone.

http://www.sydney-australia.biz/photos/sydney-harbour/fairlight-house-sydney.php
http://www.sydney-australia.biz/photos/sydney-harbour/fairlight-house-sydney.php

Fairlight Beach is a harbour beach in the Manly Council LGA, the State Electorate of Manly (Mike Baird, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal). It is som 25.1 kilometres (15.6 miles) from home.

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